Dear Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda

On January 25, 1986 when the Uganda National Liberation Front military government was defeated by your National Resistance Army (NRA), I did not exist in any form. Not even as an idea. Not even as a foetus. I was born almost two years after that day. This means that as you celebrate the feat of leading Uganda for thirty one uninterrupted years this 26th day of the month of January, the year of our Lord 2017, I will wait for ten more months before celebrating my thirtieth birthday.

Our generation of Ugandans, born in 1986 and after deserves to be named after your stay in power. We deserve to be known as the Museveni generation. We grew up knowing that your name is a synonym for presidency. Indeed we said things like, Kenya has changed its museveni, to mark the handing over of presidency in that country from Moi to Kibaki and from Kibaki to Uhuru Kenyatta. To us, the office of the president is you, and you are the office of the president. That is reductionist. You are more than the office of the president. You have defined much of the reality in which we have grown.

We remember our childhood, teenage and young adulthood days by the various policy and political events in which you were the central player. Whether it is the start of the Universal Primary Education programme in the 1990s, under which most of us attained elementary education, or the 2000 political challenge for the presidency of your organisation (system), the National Resistance Movement by Kizza Besigye, or even the 2005 Juba Peace Talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the 2011 Walk to Work protests: you were the lead player that shaped those events, and as a result, you dominate how we remember our own personal histories.

You have re-imagined and created Uganda in your image. You have been in power for longer than the combined years previous leaders stayed in office. Today, I like to think about these realities as merely that: facts, without imposing any value judgement. My letter to you, Yoweri has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong for you to have shaped our generation through your short and continuing stay in power. I know that your handlers and propagandists are itching already, to tear down whatever I wish to say, if they sense that this letter is criticising your short stay in power. I wish not to indulge them.

Yoweri: I want to ask about a side of you, that I wish to see more of. Can I call you Grandpa? I have read that people called you Mzee, even before I was born, you were already called Old Man. To a person born in 1987, age-wise, you qualify to be a grandfather. But also, given your role in shaping the conditions and realities of my short life on earth so far, I think it is respectful to call you Grandpa. After all, where I grew up, they taught us not to call elders by name. I apologise for the bad manners exhibited in the previous paragraphs. Can we cut out the handlers and propagandists at this stage? They should not care what grandchildren tell their grannies.

Grandpa: I wish to see more of your intellectual side. I remember glancing through my father’s copies of Sowing the Mustard Seed and What is Africa’s Problem in the late 1990s, when I was too young to appreciate your wisdom. As a young adult, I would read you in detail and appreciate that you wrote that scholarly verification of Fanon’s Theory of Revolutionary Violence in Mozambique during your undergraduate study. That thesis is important for my political commitment to and interest in the fight against imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, to borrow bell hooks’ naming of the system of our oppression. I also appreciate that you published selected essays on protracted warfare that military strategists world over should also be thankful for.

I appreciate most of your speeches, where you forget to score points against perceived Ugandan political opponents and go off on tangents in which you seek to interpret phenomena on your own terms as an ideas man. Most times I pick interest in how your neo-liberal practices as president contradict your ‘freedom fighter’ rhetoric. Your actions have entrenched the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s hold onto Ugandan society. But I remain greedy Grandpa, for your written material and intellectual things, and so allow me, as you would a grandchild, to ask for more. Please publish more, Grandpa. Our generation deserves to read more narration of events that have shaped our lives from your perspective. Just as you disagreed with your teacher Walter Rodney at University of Dar es Salaam on the issue of the existence of God, you know for sure that some of us will disagree with your viewpoint as is expected in a situation where there are two and more working minds.

I know that some of the propagandists in your employ are now tempted to respond to this blog post by attacking me personally, and listing all your publications. They probably think that I am not aware of the long list of your publications. I do not know if they sometimes think that our generation does not know how to use Google to find information, or they are the ones who do not know how helpful that search engine is. So, indeed we Google a lot, and specifically I, look out for any intellectual material authored by yourself there is, online. I also look for the same offline. Our generation is after all not able to live fully digital lives because of what you would call infrastructural bottlenecks, when you wear the bureaucratic jargon on your tongue. Your critics would add the fact that sometimes you pull out of that hat, a vague justification, that gift that keeps giving, of ‘national security’ to try to deny us the use of the internet as happened during the 2016 election. But let me not pay attention to the propagandists in your employ and their antagonists, your critics.

Let me state my second ask. It is related to the first. Grandpa: why don’t you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Maybe that is a wrong way to phrase it. Let me re-phrase. Grandpa: can you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Surely, you can’t limit the role of culture in the revolution to the military songs of the NRA. You know that Amilcal Cabral’s concept of the building of national culture and consciousness went beyond that.

I love that in your personal capacity as an intellectual, you have been part of two groups of linguists that have worked on a translation dictionary, and a thesaurus. I have expressed elsewhere my issues with these two projects. I have questioned the dominance of Runyankore and Nkore ways at the expense of Rukiga and Kiga ways, yet they are described as including both the Banyankore and Bakiga nationalities. My critique of the work does not take away its value. I think that it is important work. Indeed as bell hooks says, the critic only engages the work that they ascribe value to. Given the technological domination of the world by White Supremacist Eurocentric media and modes of knowledge, our generation appreciates the labour of those intellectual fighters who keep our own languages and heritage accessible to us. In your personal capacity, you are one of them.

But Grandpa: why do you do these projects as an individual? Why doesn’t your government have a cultural and language policy to support this work, in the process extending it to other nationalities in Uganda, beyond the Banyankore and Bakiga? I could list the various provisions of international human rights treaties ratified by Uganda that require the state to promote indigenous languages and heritage. Indeed, even the 1995 Ugandan Constitution has provisions that support this case. Sections of various Acts of Parliament can also be cited to boost the case for state investment in indigenous languages and heritage. But for now, I choose to write to you a blog post than to take your government to task in the courts of law. From your Kavunuuzi and Katondoozi projects referred to above, I know that you are interested in this type of work, as an individual. Why, Grandpa: doesn’t this interest and personal investment seep into public policy?

As a President of Uganda, your government’s cultural and language policies for the last 31 years have served a colonial and imperial agenda. They enforce White Supremacy in the name of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’. They turn full lives into commodities, following neo-liberal capitalist logics. They alienate black children from their immediate environments, history and heritage, to the benefit of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Grandpa: knowing that you are a former student of Walter Rodney, the Guyanese historian and Pan Africanist Marxist who gave us How Europe Underdeveloped Africa among other revolutionary texts, I know that this gospel is a staple on your ideological plate. I imagine that at a personal level, you do not like your own government’s cultural and language policy framework. But why does your government continue to do this damage, Grandpa?

Instead of you always asking UNESCO to fund your personal heritage and language projects, a state institution should exist to support this work. As you know, our generation has its many demands on the state and on your generation, given the conditions of our growing up. You are all we know. We may not yet be big on demanding a cultural and language renaissance, but you can be sure that we will appreciate this in the long term. Why don’t you institutionalise your personal hobby of contributing to projects around Runyankore and Nkore heritage so that other intellectual workers in the indigenous arts, from other Ugandan nationalities can make their contributions? Grandpa: is this too much to ask? You surely can persuade your colleagues in government to allocate some of the hundreds of millions of US Dollars the Consolidated Fund already has, from oil related income (that batch for which the handshake was given) to this.

My final ask is petty, Grandpa. It may even be problematic. Actually, it is. Please Grandpa: do not allow your handlers and various propagandists to come here and pretend to respond to this open letter. I know this last paragraph is a gift to them, as they think that they will use it to delegitimise what they may perceive as an attempt at discrediting you. Grandpa: please prevail on them. They may not see how well intentioned this plea from a child who has no choice but to carry the label with your own name, having been born during your era as Ugandan president, is. I know you are busy, and that this last paragraph could be the reason this letter may not reach you, but I believe that there are spiritual dimensions to our existence on earth and so you may find this letter telepathically. I will be glad to receive a response through action, Grandpa. Or even clairvoyantly.

Sincerely

Furayide: P.O Box Nyanja, Kabale.

‘There is no difference between you and Dr. Besigye’, Henry Mutebe tells Andrew Mwenda

Dear Andrew Mwenda

My letter to you is in Dr. Martin Luther king’s spirit who once said that ‘a time comes when silence is betrayal.’ You have spoken; I have read, listened and heard. In your submissions, you raised very important issues which in all fairness deserve a response.
I will try my best, not to attack your character or person, because that is not the ethic of a civilized debate although, I will not shy away from pointing at examples of your own pieces, submissions and words well recorded in history that may be a good mirror for you to do your own self-appraisal on the way you put your ideas forward.

You are no doubt a man of great potential but like all elements of great potential, they can all in the same manner be elements of great danger. The beauty and burden of your gifts is that you can use them for good and bad. You are a man finely gifted in speech and argument. For this, you have been recognized and celebrated in many forums. You have used your gifts to mobilise resources and established great businesses that employ other Ugandans and you must be credited for this resourcefulness. There is no doubt that like many others, you are a useful and active citizen who is contributing to the development of your country.

More significantly, through hard work, exposure and good luck, you have established yourself as a public figure, who is not shy to let those you meet know it. In your famous resignation letter, you quickly reminded your former boss, ‘Almost every year of my work at Monitor, I won a certificate of excellence. I broke the biggest stories in the country, hosted the greatest names on radio, and in many cases even attracted the largest advertisements.’ Andrew, you are a man of great achievement. We thank God for such incredible talent. In a country young as ours, we need those voices that can always disturb the normal course to make us reflect on alternatives and refine our goals and targets. Your contribution in public policy discourse is well profiled and continues to extend the boundaries.

Andrew Mwenda, Founder of The Independent Magazine - Photo by Jeniffer Cheung

That said however, as I have commented on one of your earlier posts before, I need to remind you Andrew that you have gotten accustomed to being right, being the one with the last word, and the know it all person and Yes, you are the old man of the clan, yes you have the ‘Last word’, yes you are connected and have access to classified spaces where no one else reaches, but even then, you are still one human being born into a world with others who should equally have their opinion treated with respect and who do not need to be tagged as mentally retarded or ‘fanatical’ simply because they do not subscribe to your line of argument.

In recent days, you have been quoted as calling a certain section of people mentally retarded and ‘fanatical’ yet your own history is ripe with examples of a complete ‘fanatical’ in the real sense of the word. The words and tone you use to describe supporters of Besigye or other people who disagree with you is sometimes the real evidence of what may not be good with your form and delivery of ideas.

A couple of years ago, you wrote a stinging piece ‘isn’t Museveni fleecing us’ in which you sharply criticized the president for all manner of evil. Thank God the president is a cool headed man, who from his wisdom treated you differently and you can now pass for a business man around town because he can allow a government he leads to give you adverts and also access other opportunities which he has the discretion to have failed you. President museveni is indeed a calm person.

That attack on the President and his family also drew the attention of the usually silent people like Mr. Rwabogo Odrek, who in a response to your letter said, that years of mentoring at the Monitor had ‘…produced a rabid and reckless politician, not a professional journalist’ that he thought you wanted to be. I am sure he reflected very much before he wrote those words and I hope you have the humility to read that letter again and reflect more.

I ask you to read that letter again; because it should tell you so much about how some people genuinely feel about the way you put out your ideas. He added that the newspaper was producing ‘many kids like you who feed us with garbage every day on airwaves and in print and expect the nation to sit and listen’. Like he said years ago, I think it is unfair for you Andrew, to often put opposition supporters into one box and simply regard them as ‘fanatical’ and call others mentally retarded. Odrek called your submissions ‘the daily noise that pollutes the air on the radio.’ And that you have “have learned nothing like the Bourbons in France who ruled the country before the French Revolution.’

I have used those statements just to give you a mirror to look into the past and see how it is dangerous to simply keep peeing on people’s legs and think they are too dump to notice it or simply remain too nice to tell you to stop it. You are good at talking, and sometimes fail to listen to yourself or others. I have heard you on radio several times and many times, your own panelists struggle to find space to make their arguments, you just won’t allow them to put their ideas forward. We have also heard from the corridors how sometimes the studio is charged because you just won’t use appropriate language when referring to others’ views. This sort of behavior is totally unacceptable Andrew. You may have been used to being right and being told you are the sharpest tool in the box but you need to listen more to others and respect other people’s right to hold their views. I want to imagine you are naturally a fast speaker and that may give you problems holding back when you want to make a rebuttal but you need to learn the patience to listen to others and respectfully disagree using appropriate language.

I will now turn to the contradictions in your ideas. There is a sharp contradiction in your frames of analysis of issues that is recurrent throughout all your submissions. For example, earlier on, you suggested the order by chaos theory as a solution to the conflict in Congo. You have said the same of South Sudan arguing that these regions should be left to fight, kill each other until a winner emerges and establishes order. You are against external intervention but fail at the very beginning of the argument to recognize that there are no arms factories in these regions. Arms are ferried into these regions and the minerals being looted are sold somewhere. So there are already external forces animating the action. Your premise falls when you imagine a domestic solution when there is actually an external cause. You argue that the domestic solution is what will stop the conflicts when you know too well that there are external funders and mineral dealers who are fueling these wars.

Andrew, since 1996, close to 6 million people have died in the conflicts in the non-Democratic Republic of Congo. That is precisely about 800 people every day for the last 20 years and in your opinion, and in your righteous mind sir, you think the war should go on until a winner emerges? Really? 800 people should die every day until a winner emerges? Wow. Anyway, I can understand that for you as a journalist that is news and money. War is business and that will be extra money for you since you are always the first to get the news or ‘truth’ as you always say. On those grounds I can understand your argument. However, you need to put yourself in the shoes of those you report about and understand that like your family members at home, they want to live a normal life and not merely be statistics and stories in your newspaper. The death and suffering going in South Sudan is simply untold yet you have said the same for this country. The years selling nothing but words can not give you a slight idea what the heck happens when death violently takes millions leaving behind helpless children and women. You have been lucky not to get the feel of this situation in person but those who have do not wish, even for a minute, to hear the guns roar which for you is news to sell and money to make. I just think that as someone with opportunity and space to shape public opinion and interact with decision makers, it is very regrettable that you hold and defend such a destructive theory. However, it is your opinion and you are entitled to it.

But let’s even assume that such a theory is fine by any standard, order by chaos, why don’t you apply the same theory to the growth and development of FDC or the opposition in Uganda? You have described the opposition as disorganized and unable to take power. You have consistently argued that Dr. Besigye is the problem in FDC who is stifling its growth. By supporting the order by chaos theory, you fundamentally contradict yourself when you seem to suggest to the opposition to have a different growth theory. Why is the suggestion different from your usual line of thought in this one?

I thought your school of thought is that order and authority emerge from order by chaos theory? Why don’t you leave FDC to organically go through its own disorder and find its own growth? By extension of your argument, the disorder should be healthy for it re-invent and find what works. Loyalty to FDC as an institution or Besigye as an individual is a matter for the people to decide. They know what they want and will always decide. NRM has fielded president Museveni because he works for them. To the supporters of NRM, it is not a point how many times he contests, all they want is their party to be in power. In the exigency of circumstances, they find him the best player and he has always scored. So I am not sure, as a realist, you should find Dr. Besigye’s commitment to remain active in contesting for power problematic. You have taken Besigye as the principle problem and do not want him to contest for power. I find this very simplistic. To simply wish away one person and think the opposition will now grow and win is to say the least a very laughable idea. I find the contradiction quite interesting. I think as president Museveni has argued, the people decide. That is now the order. Whether is it chaos, it is the order.

In another opinion letter you wrote for Aljazeera, you castigated president Obama for lecturing Africa when the US itself has enough problems. In that article, you write that ‘Obama acted like a colonial headman lecturing the natives on how to behave as good subjects.’ Don’t you think you are doing the same for FDC and the opposition? You had some advice for Obama saying ‘If there are weaknesses in our governance they are ours to struggle against and overcome.’ In the same spirit, if there are weaknesses in the opposition there are theirs, and theirs to solve. You on one side castigate others who you say ‘Lecture’ Africa but forget your own intervention and lectures to others. The lesson we should learn from this is that we need to listen to each other. If you do not want to listen to lectures from the US or Obama, you should in the same spirit not lecture FDC, NRM or the opposition. Or else, you mirror the actions of the ‘colonial headman’ whom you brutally condemn. Like President Kagame advised you, ‘write your stories’ in the independent and leave matters of FDC to FDC (going by your theory of order by choas…they should be left to work it on their own). Fair deal? Your opinion is just but an opinion of Andrew Mwenda. There are 3.5 Million Ugandans who voted for Besigye despite how or what you think of them. You attacked president Museveni for years yet his support continued to go up. Does that tell you something about an opinion? Millions continued to support President Museveni despite the sharp criticism and attacks you laid on him in the years before. The lesson from this is that at the end of the day, the people decide and while offering our opinions, we must not label, demonise and put people into boxes making them look evil simply because they fall into a different political space.

You accuse Dr. Besigye of turning and not respecting his word, yet in your resignation letter to the MD of Monitor, you start by saying you had resigned from Daily Monitor and from the radio talk show and will not reconsider their request to go back or continue to write! Today, if I am not mistaken, you are back at the radio, what happened? Why did you turn back? What took you back to the radio? See? People change. You changed! The same reasons you had that changed your mind should be the same frames you should use to understand that ideas change, people change, contexts changes and strategies change and it okay for people to change. It is a sure constant in life

You are tired of seeing Besigye on the political stage, how about if we also said we are tired of seeing you on TV and hearing your voice on radio, would that be a good deal? You feel the right to occupy the public space but think others should not occupy it? What’s the name given to that kind of behavior? You ought to use the same to understand that Dr. Besigye and others who want to contest need to be left to compete for as many times as they want.You and Besigye are no different. You are all sellers of ideas or opinions. So there is no difference between you and Dr. Besigye. Why do you wish him away while you think its a good idea for you to remain in the public space? You all occupy the same space, the market place of ideas. In my view, as the president has always said, The people decide. The president espouses that idea and in my opinion, it is should be given some thought. The people decide. How they decide, what information they have to decide is a debate for another day, but as a principle the people decide.

You were one of the sharpest critics of President Museveni to an extent of attacking his family in some of your pieces. Today, you are on air defending and praising the very man you said was very bad and leads an ‘illegitimate regime.’ That illegitimate regime you said now feeds you and sustains your business. Is it still bad? Were you lying about it or situations change? What happened to the bad Museveni, the corrupt Museveni, the bad man you described, the illegitimate regime? Or maybe you lied about him? What happened Andrew? I think all these situations teach us that people change, situations change and no one should be held hostage to a past. People and organizations must continuously reflect and be left to self-renew. You have changed Andrew. Others too, have changed. That’s just a fact of life. So you ought to be careful when pointing fingers to people for changing when you have taken the same route. No one should be condemned for changing their position as long as they have good reasons to do so. The president has on a number of occasions given his reasons for deciding to run again. On many occasions, many of his supporters find these reasons valid and they do support him again. In the same manner, Besigye has changed positions several times because the situations required that he does. In the end, the Ugandans are the judges, we all have one head … and our opinions should be treated with the same weight as other Ugandans, whether you call them fanatical or mentally retarded. This demonizing of politicians is simply too dangerous and as a journalist, you ought to know that we hold you to a certain standard and we are not dumb to know where the boundaries of journalism and political advocacy and witch hunt start and stop.

Andrew, I will end by re-echoing the words of Odrek who implored us that sometimes someone needs to tell you that you are overly arrogant and self-righteous. I believe Mr. Odrek Rwabogo when he wrote a letter in response to your piece expressing his concern at your ‘apparent negative contribution to the ethics of journalism in Uganda’ and that ‘Many times you act as if you are heartless, not knowing that when all chips are down, Uganda is where all of you belong.’ He also added that he was hopeful that you would grow since you had gotten a fellowship at Stanford. Perhaps now that you call yourself the old man of the clan, may be you feel you have grown, but like he implored us that you had turned from real journalism to ‘witch hunt’ and had become a reckless politician’, I feel the latest attacks are evidence to these concerns that were earlier on expressed and they show your contradictions.

I ask of you to understand that being intelligent comes with some level of responsibility, integrity, honesty and humility. Odrek, years ago but perhaps prophetically put it that ‘You have a highly inflated sense of self exaltation. I guess that is the reason you are a presenter, debater, judge and everything else on your talk show’. And he advised us that ‘someone needs to tell you that there is a different and better way things are done.’ This is what I am doing Andrew. I am telling you that there is a better way to address people. There is a better way to put your ideas across without abusing people and there is a better way to disagree. Otherwise, like Odrek said, people may continue to take your submissions as ‘the daily noise that pollutes air on radio.’

Mr Mwenda, need I repeat Odrek’s words, that ‘you need some sense of humility and to give people some respect if you want to be respected in life.’ Like you attacked the president and his family years ago through, and now today you find yourself in the not very good position of having to eat from the very people you abused, it is just good to treat people with respect and know that you cannot be sure what tomorrow holds. Those so called fanatical and mentally retarded people may be more useful to you than you may want to imagine. There are so many brilliant Ugandans who can engage in debate but the way you put your ideas forward, your sense of self-righteousness and language does not stimulate such engagement. In the end, Uganda will still be here with or without you, me or Besigye or Museveni. Your opinion is just but an opinion like many others. Do not abuse others simply because they support other candidates. Years ago you called the president illegitimate, today that president gives you bulango in your newspaper! Have you learnt something or as Odrek said, you have learnt and forgotten nothing? A word to a wise, … Andrew, the Ugandans decide. FDC decides. NRM decides. We need to respect all Ugandans and their views.

For many people its not even the parties or individuals that matter to them, they just want a decent living and a good day. Whoever speaks to their situation is all that matters to them. The president has done so many incredibly good things. Besigye has also done so many good things to put the government on pressure to deliver and to sometimes bring to the attention of the president things that many around him do without his knowledge and make him look a bad person. Right or wrong has no party. People just want a good country and no body should be simply put into any box as NRM or FDC and labelled simply because they have a different idea. For me it is not important whether it is people of FDC or in the opposition you call fanaticals or mentally retarded, or the people in NRM or the government you have earlier on called illegitimate, and other charged words… the point is the language and labeling which can have dire consequences for the people you put in that box. Nobody is fanatical, that’s just their choice. NRM fanatics or Opposition fanatics… as long as they are peace loving people, they should be respected.

By calling people hooligans, mentally retarded, fanatics, useless and all the other words you have used on air before, you promote a very dangerous narrative about an undefined group of people who may be mistreated by authorities or whose views may be ignored just because of the way you have shaped the public discourse on the identity of these people. As a journalist, you have the professional responsibility and moral obligation to be careful and selective with the choice of your words. Can’t we just live in peace without having to disrespect others. In the end we are all mixed but the same. Those who support FDC are our brothers and sisters… and those who support NRM are our brothers and sisters… we are all just Ugandans. Can’t you just earn a decent living without having to demonise others?

Henry is a lecturer at Kyambogo University and is currently a graduate student at Akersus University College of Applied sciences (HIOA) in Oslo. He broke the record as the youngest lecturer in Uganda when he was retained to teach at 22 years of age. He is also a philanthropist

Jackson Twesigye Kaguri’s The Price of Stones #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 17:59

 Dennis D Muhumuza, one of my close friends on and away from Facebook loves books.  His love for books is visible in very many ways not limited to the book reviews he writes for The Sunday Monitor newspaper. A profile picture of Dennis with a book is not strange at all, knowing his love for books. It is indeed Dennis’ profile picture in which he is holding and reading Jackson Twesigye Kaguri’s The Price of stones; Building a school for my village that pricked my long-held interest in the book, thereby starting my personal experience of Kaguri’s story.

I borrowed Dennis’ copy immediately. He indeed delivered it to my workplace, (I am immensely grateful Dennis) and the experience I have since had is a fantastic one. I must note on the onset that Kaguri’s story was not entirely unknown to me before reading and experiencing the book. Kaguri is my friend on Facebook; I am a Facebook fan of the Nyaka page, Mr. Kaguri is a member of the board of directors of Global Batwa Outreach where I do volunteer advocacy and his name has come up many times in my personal conversations with my role-model and mentor, Mr. Johnson Karengye Mujungu as regards community development and social entrepreneurship.

Reading Kaguri’s book was an entirely new experience. I discovered that what I knew of him was less than 1% of who he is. By merely reading his book, I have an experience independent of the book. Kaguri’s life story is weaved with his award-worthy initiative of building a free school for AIDS orphans in his ancestral village in the book. It is not hard to locate the source of Kaguri’s inspiration to build his community as he ably juxtaposes his personal life experiences with his initiative and work for the Nyaka orphans.

In The Price of Stones; Building a School for my village, I met Jackson’s wife, an African American called Beronda. The two met in New York at Columbia University where Jackson did his postgraduate study and Beronda was then studying for her college degree. Jackson explains what attracted him to Beronda;

The first things that attracted me to her were her self confidence, openness and beautiful smile. She was everyman’s dream; smart, loving, kind and independent. After only three dates, I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry and have children with.

The story of Jackson and his marrying Beronda is one I recommend one should find in the book on their own. From step one; Beronda is at the centre of the dream for a school for Nyakagyezi village, as much as Jackson. Back in America, Jackson writes of the frustrations as he shared the dreams with others;

An immigrant friend from Ghana shook his head when I explained the idea to him. ‘This is America’, he said. ‘You work hard, buy a nice car and pay to bring your family here, forget your village.

The seed money for the school came from Beronda’s and Jackson’s savings for a house. They decided to build a school first for orphans before they could buy a house for their young family. What largely makes the book an experience on its own separate from the author’s are the minute details Jackson divulges about himself. He writes at page 95; “in America, I was a stay-at-home dad who cared for Nicolas and did house work …” My gender equality nerve could not resist the tickle. Doing house work does not make Jackson less of a man neither does taking care of their son Nicolas.

There are many times I fell into the trap of thinking that Jackson had it all well with the Nyaka project. However hard, after getting some money through fundraising and transparently putting up school structures, it should follow that any orphan would be dying to join the school where food is free, school uniform free and other school supplies. That thought cannot last the whole book. Sharon, one girl refuses school even with the quality of the education and holistic approach to education the school applies. Jackson writes of the disappointment he feels regarding Sharon’s choice and in a masterly done transition follows up with his own experience. He writes;

I prayed for God to protect her and hoped things would turn out for the best. One never knows about these things. I had learned that lesson first hand. It was 1982 and I was ten.

There are very many things to love about Jackson’s The Price of Stones, but his unmistakeable description of nature comes top for me. Of Kabale, he writes;

Kabale district has been described as the Switzerland of Africa, with interlocking hills, cool morning temperatures and beautiful scenery. Being positioned between two ridges, the morning fog could be so thick that children got lost.

Jackson’s own home is Kanungu, a neighbouring district to Kabale but his description of mornings in Kabale is so spot-on, I read it all over again and again.

Again, in another linkage of his own life-story to Nyaka’s, Jackson writes of the gap between rural and urban primary school pupils as regards the national examinations, a point he makes ably. He writes;

Rural children were at a disadvantage when it came to taking national exams. Some test questions assumed familiarity with city life. I remembered one question about people on the first floor above the ground floor. For children who had experienced only one-story houses it was an alien concept. They had little chance of answering such a question correctly.

The philosophy that drives Kaguri to the extent of dedicating lots of time, resources and efforts to help and build his community underlies his entire story. If I am reading the news correctly, Jackson left his job at the University of Michigan to concentrate on permanently and full-time working for Nyaka. One can find the core of his philosophy is a speech he gave at a fundraising event, he explains;

We are the ones with a choice – we can ignore the problem and let these children become victims of neglect and abuse or we can save them, one child at a time. We are the ones who must rescue our community. We are the ones who have the opportunity to save these children.

The extent of the impact of Kaguri’s putting his dream to reality is visible from how his philosophy spread to other members of the community. At a grannies’ conference in Toronto, he thought;

“Governments could pass laws, write legislation and send money that never reached them or only covered certain care, but these women held the power to make their own future. One way or another, the grandmothers were going to save Africa’s orphaned children.”

Kaguri must not have foreseen the potential impact Nyaka AIDS orphans school would have on the community. At the school’s graduation ceremony in 2008, seven years after the school’s opening, Kaguri wrote of the achievements;

Not only had we just graduated our first class, our clean water system had been expanded and we had our own educational radio program broadcasting from Rukungiri, and the grannies’ project. Our three-acre farm allowed us to grow maize, potatoes and vegetables and a grant from the Blue Lupin foundation was funding the first public library in western Uganda.

From the achievements, one would think that Kaguri lives in this village where the school is located. That he lives with Beronda and Nicolas faraway in Michigan but has managed to build a community around an AIDS orphans school should stand out as a challenge to those who live in and near the communities that need their initiatives and hard work. As Lucy Steinitz writes in the afterword;

Nyaka shows a whole new way to engage in community development. Nyaka’s concept is to create a holistic centre that starts with a school but extends far beyond a formal primary education to include agriculture and nutrition, cultural programs, life skills, psychosocial supports, healthcare and a home away from home. Local materials and people are employed; Nyaka is very much integrated into the rural life of south-western Uganda.

Nyaka and Kaguri through the book “A Price of Stones, Building a School for my Village” is an experience for everyone to live. Very many personal details of Kaguri’s life and the school will impact everyone in a unique way. That Nyaka, the dream is expanding is the highest point. There is now another school Kutamba built along the same concept as Nyaka.

What moves me most regarding my experience of Nyaka and Jackson is that we need to put our foot on the ground and start working. That we have to get involved. That we have to involve others to build our communities. That high sounding rhetoric is just that – RHETORIC. That we need to invest our vision, energy, single minded dedication in building our communities. Certainly, no one will build them for us.

That in us, in our experiences is inner strength that can better us and our communities. Jackson lost his elder brother Frank to AIDS, a sister Mbabazi to the disease hence became the obvious guardian of his nephews and nieces. His wife’s maiden visit to Nyakagyezi, their village saw a line of villagers at their home begging for support for widows and orphans of AIDS. Jackson certainly knew where he had come from; he knew the importance of the community that birthed him. All this metamorphosed into Nyaka. Our personal experiences hold our strength to bettering who we are and our communities.

To get information about the book and the schools, visit www.nyakaschool.org or www.thepriceofstones.com

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society.  

Nick Twinamatsiko’s The Chwezi Code #UgBlogWeek

Originally Posted on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 13:45

By now, those I have shared with about Ugandan literature know that I consider Nick Twinamatsiko’s second novel, The Chwezi Code, originally titled Mugu as the best novel that portrays contemporary Ugandan social realities. Since 2010, when this novel was released and when I acquired myself a copy and read it, I have been thinking of writing a review of it. I have however severally failed to sit down and get the business done. What I am doing here is not necessarily a review, in fact it is not. I am merely sharing excerpts of the novel that I have loved and highlighted for several reasons which I will or will not share but I hope they help justify my observation that the novel is the best I have read regarding our contemporary Uganda society.

Here we go, the start of the novel, page one, the protagonist of the novel, which is written in the first person takes us through the origins of his journey to Chwezi priesthood. Let me quote;

My journey to Chwezi priesthood began at an examination desk in the Tanzanian university I attended. For the last paper of my three-year course, Providence, or Fate, or Destiny, or whatever you call it, contrived to make me share a desk with Josephine, the gorgeous classmate whose heart I had, for long, vainly hankered after. As I wrote the exam, I cast furtive glance after furtive glance at this stunning neighbour. It is as if I was determined to make the most of this apparently last opportunity to admire her delectably curved chin, her divine eyes, her exquisite nose, her slender neck, her perfect complexion, and the alluring hands that she occasionally raised to her chin. Then my eyes rammed into hers.

The book starts with a cheat for a student who gets fired from a university for helping the gorgeous classmate. Nick describes the scene so well, he must in real life have seen how examinations cheats do it. I mean, Nick is a university lecturer, maybe he has caught some students do the cheating because you can’t beat the accuracy of his description.

Mugu’s departure from the Tanzanian university on the count of cheating in many ways keeps appearing in the entire story. Whether sexually, spiritually, commercially and morally the stain of a cheat keeps hanging around Mugu’s name. Mugu itself as a name is a cover of sorts, a brand which when exposed will reveal several aspects of this cheat of a man, his real name is Emmanuel Arinaitwe. When chased from the university, Arinaitwe (Mugu) enrols in a freedom-fighting group aiming at dislodging Idi Amin from the Ugandan presidency. This group is not only disorganized but is also too ambitious! The attack Arinaitwe was meant to be part of ends catastrophically. Arinaitwe ends up as a Chwezi spiritual medium of sorts as he attempts to escape the notorious state security system hunting down remnants of the failed attack. Mugu’s work as a Chwezi spiritual medium is a great work of deception and human ingenuity. His lustful self is still very dominant, in one scene in his shrine he describes at page 30;

I was transfixed. Then I withdrew. I figured that she was in cohorts with the spirits, or at least had some clue about what had transpired. I shuffled back to the bed, and anxiously looked her in the face. I wanted to whisper a request for enlightenment, but something told me that even a whisper might be too risky. She discerned the questions in my facial expression, and, as a way of answering them, said in a hushed, timid voice: ‘It’s my ancestral spirits that brought me.’

Mugu had probably thought the Chwezi spiritual powers which he was using to exploit people were a creation of his mind. Mable, Rugambanengwe’s wife managed to confuse the false spiritual medium that the spirits were real. A typical tale of where a person thinking they are fooling others also ends up being fooled. Mugu’s own words at page 31 expose the confusion and the extent to which he was fooled by Mable. He says;

The Chwezi had decided to show me that they weren’t as imaginary as I had assumed. they lit fires on the hills through their living descendants! There was a trace of lingering doubt somewhere in my being. But I had to concede that, if I didn’t believe that it was the Chwezi that had contrived this, I couldn’t find a logical explanation.

Typical of Nick’s writing, bearing his first novel, Jesse’s Jewel in mind, Chwezi Code pays attention to the poor reading culture in the contemporary Ugandan society. Somehow, Nick has consistently argued that a reading culture can in a way deal with some problems we face, particularly corruption. That is an interesting view, but you have to be keen regarding what the society is reading if we are talking of eradicating corruption by implanting values embedded in the books we read. In Chwezi Code, Nick acknowledges that the book-carrying and reading culture needs substance. At page 68 Mugu tells us;

I soon discovered that some of the scantily clad, lip-stick wearing, powdered girls that occasionally strutted into the shop to purchase Bugu-Bugu novels never found the time to read them. They saw the books as fashion accessories, and felt sophisticated when they strolled through the streets clutching them in the hand. The bugu-bugu novel wasn’t really different in function from the big, dark sun-goggles that these girls wore, even at dusk. They took an interest in the cover design and material, and in the name of the author, because these were important factors in the real utility that the books had. It was fashionable to appear acquainted with certain authors, whether or not one actually read their novels.

What emptiness, one must be saying, or can we call it nothingness, but I should disclose that Mugu had opened up a bookshop and discovered that selling classic novels and books was not good business like selling bugu-bugu books. People who bought books were not interested in books that explore values, dogma and themes as vice and virtue, might and right among others. Buying books was a hobby, not reading them. Mugu, being the genius he is also cashed in on the emptiness.

Mugu’s rendezvous with the Chwezi spirits is the core of Nick’s tale. It will remain in the background of every sub-plot you meet in the novel. The Chwezi spirits were very much part of Mugu that he even thought they had taken his carnal abilities with them. Remember the scene whose description we quoted above? In the scene, Mugu had just slept with a man’s wife, who had tricked him into believing that she was an embodiment of the Chwezi spirits. Mugu had known that he had slept with the Chwezi spirits themselves, a belief that shaped his thinking about his own body a lot. At page 92, Mugu tells us;

But I discovered, as I began mounting the stairs, that carnal desires had deserted me again. Perhaps it was because I had just been intimately recalling Mable and the Chwezi during my talk with Rutafa. Somehow, I knew, as I turned the door knob of our rendezvous room, that I would embarrass myself if I tried to make love to the girl. And knowing girls, I knew she could subsequently litter the whole town with the information that I was not the man that I seemed to be – that a goat had knocked me, as our people put it.

Mugu and his sexual desires!!! Or am I being too harsh on the man?  As his own mind-set on the probable effect of the Chwezi spirits saved Mugu from sleeping with a young girl who looked to him for financial support of a music career in exchange for bodily pleasure, he (Mugu) discovered a man with more heated sexual passion than him, this time a preacher and pastor. Somehow, the same preacher that Mugu had observed in compromising scenes now wanted to preach to Mugu whose response to the man heavily changed the said preacher’s poise, Mugu describes; “He was smitten speechless. He became a bundle of squirms. Perplexity was all over him as he rose, and made to leave.”

The preachers of these days are not preachers per se. They preach wine and drink water or do they preach water and drink wine? Soyinka’s original phrase in The Trials of Brother Jero sometimes plays tricks with me. But yes, this preacher was pretty much the same as brother Jero of the Soyinka play. Mugu’s thinking as regards religion and spirituality is one thing that will tickle the reader’s mind into profound thinking about our times and how we are fleeced by all sorts of religions. But the Chwezi spirits will impress the reader more. Mable, the woman Mugu had slept with, she who had claimed to be an embodiment of Chwezi spirits had appeared to Mugu as a village woman. He was however slowly discovering that she was more than that, a matter that made her more mysterious. Mugu had engaged the Chwezi spirits thinking there were non-existent, their existence however continued to prove itself in his mind. Mable’s arguments were far from the typical village woman’s. Mugu attributed that to Chwezi spirits. He writes of her views;

I recalled her argument that the Chwezi religion and Bacurera’s herbs were being bundled with witchcraft simply because they were native; that Hinduism and Buddhism wouldn’t be classified as witchcraft by the villagers. I had later repeated this argument in an intellectual discussion with Rutafa. I had plagiarized her thought! And Rutafa, with his characteristic flamboyance, had later plagiarized it in the Constituent Assembly, after he had stunned the nation by refusing to take his oath using the Bible or the Koran, arguing that he subscribed to the ‘faith of our for bearers’.

Nick’s views on plagiarism are well-known. Even in Jesse’s Jewel, his first novel, some views on plagiarism appear. But so are his opinions on language, specifically the English language and its role in a Ugandan society. At page 153, in a discussion with Ophelia, some hints on Nick’s view are evident;

‘You think he is extraordinary?’

‘Not really. No extraordinary person would effusively praise a foreign tongue. But he is intelligent and eloquent.’

‘I think language always has values and beliefs embedded in it.’

That discussion above stemmed from a discussion of a work of art around the theme of religion among others. Mugu was an avid reader, at least he tried to read and had found a novel called the Chwezi Country which he had decided to act in real life using real human beings without briefing them on the script and making money from it. Religion is a business, Nick tells us through Chwezi Code, a business that even exchanges hands. Mugu had by the end of the novel profited from both the Chwezi religion when he operated a shrine and towards the end bought a Pentecostal church and operated it as a typical business. The core of the Ugandan society is about materialism and emptiness. Mugu tells as much at page 192;

It seemed that, in organising big weddings, most of the couples were driven by a desire to impress. It was impressive to hold a bigger wedding than one’s friends, and the fact that one begged in order to achieve the grandeur didn’t subtract from its impressiveness. There was no dishonour in begging or soliciting donations, to use the politically correct language. After all who wasn’t doing it? the government was begging so as to pay its over-sized cabinet and idle public servants. The churches were begging so that the pastors could live in mansions and drive big cars. Why shouldn’t young people beg so that they could hold big feasts?

I can quote the whole book to make the point that this is a book I prescribe for every Ugandan, in and out of Uganda if they want to understand the extent of shallowness, evil and immorality of our society. But that would not make sense for me to quote the entire book. There is much I have not quoted. I have not even told of how the story evolves, of the plot summary as we used to call it in literature classes in high school. It was intentional, this is not a proper review. That Nick hits the nail on the head of the corruption vice in our society is obvious. There are also political undertones in the book. I have to tell you that Nick prophesies that the current NRM government will collapse like the Prosperity Towers in the novel because it is built on a lie, on materialism, on emptiness and greed! Nick can dispute that, but it is my understanding of the theme of the book.

It would be unfair to finish this piece without telling of how the novel ends, at page 206, Mugu laments; “The Chwezi had given me, the Chwezi had taken away”. All lies give and take. Materialism, religion, emptiness, corruption name them (the evils of the Museveni regime) have given him longevity in power, even untold personal wealth, but if we follow the moral of Nick’s story, they will take away.

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the second post.

 

Dear Beti Kamya

I have been reading all the vitriol that has been directed your way, since you promised our dear president, Baby Face, that you will ensure that he wins the next elections. The more I have read, the more I have found myself in your corner. I mean, the more I have appreciated your current position. Especially that indeed, the opposition never saw any good in you, they did not see your leadership potential while you were on their side, while Baby Face was always wooing you.

I will be honest, Beti. Us, who belong to the much maligned millennial generation (those aged 18-35 in 2016), who only know Baby Face’s leadership of Uganda, came to know you when you were one of the ‘detractors’, at least in public. We heard that you had differences with people in Reform Agenda, as early as 2001, and that in 2005, those differences worsened and led to your loss to Alice Alaso as Secretary General of the party. I sadly looked on between 2008 and 2009 as you tore the FDC party to shreds in your attempt to ‘inherit’ the late Dr. Kiggundu’s position as party chairman. Your opponents also threw some jabs your way, that have lasted!

beti

The things you were saying about ‘Westerners’ then, were too heavy for me, a born of Kabale in the South-West of the country, to say or think anything at the time. I walk around with Westerner guilt anyway. Your words contributed to it, to be honest. That your late husband (May he RIP) hailed from the West, and therefore your children are from the West too, complicated matters. The guilt could not allow me to jump onto any side. Those who said that you hated Westerners did not get my audience, because I was there saying, if she hated them, why would she have married from them?  We could say that I may not have been on your side, but I also wasn’t against you. What does that even mean?

Before the Kiggundu replacement saga, you had in February 2008 been charged before court, with promoting war and inciting violence. The charges were based on an article in Daily Monitor, in which you questioned Baby Face’s nationality! Even if you were then an FDC MP, that article had left some of us who held the party membership cards worried. The nationality and ethnic nationalism question in Uganda is a complicated one, that we have to face at one point, or at several points in Uganda’s life as a country, but Beti, that article! Do you sometimes look back at some of those things you wrote?

kamya-beti

Anyway, you moved on, from FDC and started the Uganda Federal Alliance. I remember when you told Josephine Karungi of NTV that you fell sick during the campaign trail, and even went for surgery and the loud women rights activists did not even call you, to wish you well. EXCEPT: Winnie Byanyima and Miria Matembe. I remember you sharing with the country the fact that Winnie abandoned her husband, Besigye’s campaign trail to bring you flowers. Beti: Winnie cares. She is loyal. To digress: do you think you would maybe support her if she contested for President with Baby Face in 2021? (Just kidding)

Your relevance after the 2011 election played hide and seek, except on most Saturdays when the country tuned in to the Capital Gang to hear from you. People kept talking about you joining NRM, that there was really no surprise that you were made a Minister this year. In fact, some people (of course excluding you) had thought that you would be announced as Vice President. They thought that Ssekandi would not have a chance to set fashion trends in this playful hakuna mchezo term. But here we are, Beti.

kamya

I think people are being unfair to you. You are a complex human being, like each one of us. Those who claim that you were a spy in FDC and the opposition generally want to figure you out, and reduce your complexity to one mission. They forget that before the political phase of your story, you were a successful manager at Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). I have seen others claiming that you needed some money to be able to sustain a middle class life in Kampala. Really? People can want to reduce others to small material conditions. You have a brain on your shoulders that can sustain your life without the trouble that politics is. One of my friends says that you really wanted a position of influence, such that you contribute to national development. She almost convinced me, but then, I do not buy this notion of ‘development’, so I jumped out of her taxi.

I do not want to try to understand you. I would hate it, for someone to try to understand me, too. Our individual lives are complex. Every single person who aims to understand others ends up misunderstanding them. I feel that you have been misunderstood Beti. People are now shaking their heads at how you can turn from the person who was calling Baby Face a monster, a non-Ugandan, to the one declaring that he has stamina and has always had your interests at heart. Again, I refuse to buy their attempts to reduce you to a turn-coat. I know you are not bothered by all the vitriol being thrown at you, you are not the first to be accused by some Ugandans of betrayal, I mean, there is Awori, there is Atubo, there are more people, and more will join the league of the complicated Ugandan politicians and we will forget about you, but I just wanted to say that we would appreciate if you could gift us an autobiography. There is an important story we deserve to know. So that when your detractors spread their misunderstanding of you, we will hit back with your properly laid out story. Please Beti, oblige us.

MUSEVENI REWRITES HISTORY: EXPUNGES KIZZA BESIGYE FROM SOWING THE MUSTARD SEED!

By Bernard Sabiiti

I just made a startling discovery after reading Yoweri Museveni’s newly released ‘Sowing the Mustard Seed’ 2nd edition. There is no mention of Kizza Besigye at all. I thought there was a page I missed. Surely a figure as monumental in the National Resistance Army (NRA) struggle as Besigye should be mentioned somewhere. I even went to the book’s index and scanned all the K’s and then the B’s and even the C’s (for colonel). Nothing!

new

Yoweri Museveni (in yellow shirt) launches the second edition of his autobiography (Photo: The Monitor)

But then I had read the first edition of ‘Sowing the Mustard Seed’ numerous times and I remembered Museveni had mentioned Kizza Besigye in heroic and glowing terms, so I went back to the old copy and bingo! Page 152, towards the end of the “Fighting Obote” Chapter, the son of Kaguta, after describing the desperate need for doctors the guerrillas had and praising the role of Dr. Bata, the very first NRA physician, he wrote;

Then Kizza Besigye … joined us and now we had some medical personnel to help us.

bes-army

Col. Kizza Besigye (in head circled), with other comrades during the 1981 – 86 bush war

But it is page 165 of the old book, now expunged from the new one, that got to me. Under the “Attacking Kabamba” chapter (those who have read Museveni’s story know the importance of this invasion in the NRA struggle), Museveni narrates a pivotal moment when Kiiza Besigye saved his life, as they neared Kabamba:

While scaling these hills, I fainted due to extreme dehydration and exhaustion. Kizza Besigye gave me Oral Rehydration Salts and we were able to continue the journey.

old

The cover of the first edition

That these key facts that explained Besigye’s role in the NRA struggle and the role he played in saving Museveni’s life were expunged from the new edition because the two men have become rivals is beyond absurd. This in my view shows how extreme Museveni or those around him have become in their politics. It is backward, revisionist and bad for the historical record of the Museveni years. I am still examining the book to see if there are other characters that were expunged in this rewriting of history and will get back.

This is sad!

Kizza Besigye is no Thomas Sankara but the only chance at Change

This blog considers Thomas Sankara, the former Burkina Faso President as the most ideal pan-African leader to have lived in recent history. In a mere four years of ruling Burkina Faso (which he renamed), he did not only outline an anti-imperialist agenda that should be adopted by many countries under the yoke of neo-colonialism, but he also physically built the country. He painted a picture of a modern Africa that is not necessarily Europeanised. In his policies and thinking, we see a clear line between modernisation and Imperialism. He challenged the traditional feudal chiefs’ hold onto land, promoted gender equality, was a big arts patron, supported the youth and lived a very frugal life. He has been called the upright man. The name he created for the country, Burkina Faso, actually means the land of the upright.

the wire

Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, since Sankara’s death was ruled by Blaise Compaore, who literally was a class-monitor operating on behalf of France, the country that colonised the country that used to be called Upper Volta. He over-turned Sankara’s policies, and had the man’s grave attacked several times. Talking about Sankara in the country was almost criminal. It attracted serious consequences. After 27 years of imperialism-backed dictatorship, the people of Burkina Faso, the youth calling themselves the children of Thomas Sankara took to the streets and peacefully protested Compaore’s plans to extend his rule. The dictator did not budge. The youths burned the Parliamentary buildings. France sent a plane to evacuate their man to Ivory Coast, where another puppet is in control. The Burkinabe got their country back. They are now rebuilding it, and one hopes that their current President, the first civilian leader since independence follows Sankara’s relevant and revolutionary policy and ideological blueprint.

 

Uganda goes to the polls tomorrow. The country has been ruled by a Compaore type of figure. Under his rule, the country has been involved in each and every conflict in the region, from Somalia, to Central African Republic. This man is a key points-man for US and UK interests in the region. Uganda needs a Sankarian revolution yesterday. Ugandan society needs an overhaul in the way feudal patriarchal structures operate in most areas. The country needs genuine leadership on the gender equality front. A leader willing to tell men things about male privilege. Thirty years of doing the bidding for neo-imperialism are enough. Uganda’s national interest needs to come from the shadows of personal and American interests. The country needs a national identity. Who are we? What are we? What does it mean to be Ugandan? The arts are gone. Artists in the country succeed, despite Uganda, not because of it. The  country carries a heavy debt burden and a thieving class has grown, without tangible production. False middle and upper classes that are not based on productivity but connections. Economic growth figures reflect the amount of corruption happening, than industrialisation.

 

Who will lead the Sankarian revolution in Uganda?

There is no Thomas Sankara in Uganda today. As Prof. Horace Campbell wrote recently:

Besigye (Kizza) has been addressing very large rallies in all parts of the country. Citizens have flocked to his rallies with gifts and the symbolism of youths bringing jackfruit, chicken, goats and food as donations to political rallies signaled that the poor want to make up for the financial deficiencies of the opposition, FDC (Forum for Democratic Change). The massive rallies of Besigye and the enthusiasm of the electorate has been a signal of the deep desire for change in the political direction of Uganda.

Baby

Besigye holds a baby at a rally in the poorer parts of Kampala city, which is increasingly becoming a class-segregated metropolis.

The peasants, the working class, those that Sankara referred to as ‘the people’ have showed support to the FDC candidate. Besigye’s campaign message hits directly at the exploitation of the poor by the corrupt. He indeed preaches that power needs to be removed from the hands of a few and put back into the hands of the people. But there is a problem. Prof. Campbell puts it better.

Ugandan workers and poor farmers are demanding change, but so far the traditional opposition parties have failed to present a project that could find support among the most oppressed. Kizza Besigye has persevered over the past fifteen years, but his horizons are limited to his understanding of the future dependence on western forces.

Imperial neo-liberalism is the beast. The foundation Besigye talks about looks too eerily neo-liberal. He talks the free-market language. The FDC Policy agenda and manifesto preach social-market economics. They are trying to build neo-liberal societies but want to contain the excesses. That is not a Sankarian revolutionary party. Indeed as Horace tells us:

While the FDC has pointed to the wretchedness of the poor, the campaign has not made the link between the structural adjustment programs and the conditions of Ugandans. In many ways, this opposition will remain constrained by its exposure to the international ‘donor community’ and the embrace of the International Republican Institute (IRI). The over-size influence of western NGOs and embassies is evident in the operations of all of the top candidates. It was significant that General Sejusa did not flee to Tanzania or Mozambique when he fell out with Museveni, but to Britain.

Winnie and Besigye

Besigye consults with his wife Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director at Oxfam

Besigye and the FDC are thin on pan-Africanism. In all honesty, Besigye, compared to the other leading challengers for the seat comes off as the cleanest individual. His name has never been connected to corruption scandals. He is a puritan, as Daniel Kalinaki’s book, Kizza Besigye and the Ugandan Unfinished Revolution describes him. He is a stickler to principle. In that way, one can say that there is after all a small Sankara streak in him. He obviously speaks to the people, the masses. That, too is Sankarian. But his medicine of neo-liberal market economics, to the exploitation of the poor by the rich is faulty.

Besigye book cover

By all means, the current neo-colonial regime should go. And at the moment, only Kizza Besigye represents a chance for change. The people support him and they should have their way, as popular democracy (not necessarily the neo-liberal variety of procedural multi-party elections) demands. Once that first step of getting rid of the current neo-colonial regime has been achieved, a proper Sankarian revolution can then happen. The progressive pan-Africanists should get ready for the battle for Uganda’s policy and ideological soul under Besigye. One hopes that the FDC on getting power soon realise the folly of neo-liberalism. The Western block do not trust Besigye that much, after all, so he does not have to become a stooge of US-UK imperialism while in office.

Why FDC and Besigye need to keep a healthy distance from the West (Kofi Annan and Ocampo)

Under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation, the West seems to suggest, through the disgraced former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Mr. Moreno Ocampo (diplomatically of course) how a Ugandan political party should do her things. Despite a very hard campaign and delicate election process in this party in which my preferred candidate lost, despite the failure at the first The Democratic Alliance (TDA) talks to agree on a joint presidential candidate, in London, the neo-colonisers seem to suggest that the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate that they have never liked anyway should not be the leader of a joint strategy to oust Museveni.

This is disappointing in many ways. Museveni is the West’s so called ‘strategic ally’, which is their way of saying ‘agent’ and they have never liked Besigye to replace him, and now they have found ‘diplomatic’ ways of having not to worry that they are losing an ‘ally’ in the region. Museveni will exploit this to even claim that he is an enemy of the imperialism he has been championing in broad day light and hideous darkness! Even if the candidate being touted as ‘endorsed’ by TDA wins the election and actually takes over power, it will be a non-victory for the people of Uganda because man, why can’t we be independent? Why can’t the African people matter, instead of Western interests? Why can’t African interests matter? This replacement of one agent with another is terrible. Sick. Ocampo and your backers surely, why not leave Africa alone, man?

Besigye book cover

Books, stories, nonfiction and fiction are important survival mechanisms for the disillusioned. So, I have been re-reading Daniel Kalinaki’s recent book as a way of coping with the tragedy of a subtle attempt to ‘bulldoze’ Besigye and the FDC by the West, again as a way to secure their interests at our expense. They have been doing it and it has helped maintain Museveni in power. Now they are doing it such that even if the person they rather deal with wins, their interests shall be safe. And it looks like FDC and Besigye almost fell for it. But trust Besigye, the puritan to insist that Mbabazi does not stand for a corrupt free government, human rights and other pillars of FDC’s struggle against the ruling government in Uganda. Trust the stickler to principles, the puritan.

We start at page iii. The prologue.

“In April 2011, Dr Warren Kifefe Kizza Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition political party, met with foreign diplomats in Kololo, an affluent suburb of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.”

*A lot of background and historical text here omitted.

“Besigye’s post-election plan, in particular his participation in the walk-to-work protests, topped the agenda at the April meeting, with diplomats and representatives from donor agencies.

Western agencies had for long been ambivalent about Besigye and the FDC. Britain, Uganda’s former colonial master, the United States of America, other donor countries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had all invested heavily, both financially and politically in Museveni and his regime.

*Omit more context

*Omit more context

“They (the West) stuck with Museveni, even after the widely discredited 2006 election in which Besigye spent half his campaign time in jail or court, battling fabricated rape and unproved treason charges.

In March 2007 Uganda deployed peacekeeping troops to Somalia to keep what was left of the failed state from falling into the hands of extremist Islamists from Al-Shabaab, who are allied to Al-Qaeda. Suddenly Museveni went from an imperialistic meddler to a strategic ally in the global war on terror and an enforcer of stability in regional geo-politics.”

Down with the bloody agent, down! Neo colonialism Zeeee! Zeeee! #NeocolonialismMustFall

*Omit more context

“Besigye’s brash and aggressive style had never really endeared him to the West. Where Museveni was charming and affable, Besigye was stiff and overly serious. Where Museveni humored diplomats with tales of African history or the provenance of his beloved herds of cattle, Besigye never veered from monotonous diatribes on policy failures and the democratic deficit in the country.

Many western observers accused Besigye of being populist and confrontational rather than rational and persuasive. They wanted him to build a party, write manifestos, propose alternative policies, and run a western-style democratic process.

Besigye accused the western donors and diplomats f being naive and ignorant. Museveni had so much power and dominance over the political landscape, Besigye argued, that he had to be dislodged if real and sustainable democratic reform and institution building could take place.

In any case, Besigye had charted out policy alternatives in his election manifestos, he said, but those counted for little in a political environment where it was not the votes that counted but those who counted them.

That was the context as Besigye walked into the Irish Ambassador’s residence in Kololo. The mood was hostile and tense.

Many of the diplomats seated around the table could hardly disguise their contempt. They saw a sore loser, a could-have-been who had fired his last bullet and was now trying to fashion a human shield out of the man on the street.

“It was embarrassing to see the way Besigye was humiliated,” a diplomat who attended the meeting recalled. “They had a go at him and simply cut him to smithereens. I wished the ground could swallow me whenever we made eye contact.”

Besigye, on the other hand saw self-centered diplomats putting personal careers and the interests of their countries ahead of what he considered to be Uganda’s national interest. Apart from the battle by foreign firms over oil contracts, the West was also interested in the security that Museveni had helped procure in South Sudan and Somalia, opening up the region to trade and investment.

Museveni was pissing, all right, but he was in their tent pissing outside. Besigye, on the other hand, could not be trusted not to rain on the parade if he took power.

That meeting arguably marked the end of Besigye as a ‘formal’ opposition politician. Within a few months he would announce his intention to step down as FDC leader, two years before the end of his term.”

We can see that Besigye has remained a big force in the opposition despite the Western countries’ hatred of him, and his methods. Why is he now trying to listen to their new trendy way of neutralizing him? He knows they do not stand for Uganda’s interest! We return to Kalinaki.

“When the meeting with the donors in Kololo ended, Besigye rose politely. With his head stooping as usual, he walked to his car in the parking lot. He was beaten but not defeated. For better or for worse, this struggle had now become his life.”

Kalinaki concludes the prologue. This reflection concludes by humbly suggesting to the FDC and Besigye campaign teams to consider including very strong pan-African, anti neo-colonial promises in their manifesto. This message needs to be central to the struggle man. Get inspired by Sankara folks!

Five Ugandan Socially Conscious Songs

Ugandan social media space has been in flames after a group of musicians released a song titled Tubonga Nawe praising the country’s longest serving and only living President, Mr. Yoweri Museveni and pledged to support his 2016 campaign. The song was released at a dinner attended by comedians, musicians, radio personalities and other ‘artists’. Some fans of the participating musicians are angry about the song and dinner and have taken to the pages of these ‘stars’ to express their displeasure. Songstress Juliana Kanyomozi, reggae artist Bebe Cool and comedienne Anne Kansiime are some of the hardest hit by this wave of anger and dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, soul musician Maurice Kirya explained his turning down of the invitation to the dinner arguing that tokenism will not solve the major problems of the arts industry in Uganda. Musician Bobi Wine has not been seen among those who attended the dinner. Some of his songs have been shared widely by some of the people annoyed by the ‘endorsement’ of Mr. Museveni by some of the country’s artists (normally artists are not paid to endorse a politician, it is rather the artists who contribute money to the campaign of a politician they are endorsing). He has also been described as a socially conscious artist. Below. we present five Ugandan socially conscious songs in recent times. Some have captured the national imagination but others have not enjoyed as much airplay. Enjoy.

Bobi Wine: Time Bomb 

The song has quickly become the most shared after the Tubonga Nawe debacle. The song warns that we are sitting on a time bomb because of high prices of electricity, tribalism and other ills. It follows in the line of his earlier song Ghetto in which he, with Nubian Li, accuses politicians of forsaking the ghetto people.

Mathias Walukaga: Bakoowu 

When the song was newly released, John Abimanyi described it as “a kadongo kamu hit that paints images of what Ugandan society looks like today. The images from the song range from telling the story of what it means to live from day to day in Uganda, to having implications that could go as far as making a statement on the political standing of the day.”

Ronald Mayinja: Tuli Kubunkenke

The song, that soon became a campaign tool for opposition politicians in 2011 built on the idea of everyone being on tension.  Mayinja followed up the song with Africa that hit hard on the corruption of Africa’s leaders who he accused of selling their countries. One of the first comments following the Tubonge Nawe dinner alluded to these two songs as a fan expressed his disappointment with Mayinja’s attendance of the infamous dinner.

Bobi Wine: Tugambire ku Jennifer 

Bobi Wine does not hide that he is dissatisfied with Kampala Executive Director Jennifer Musisi’ actions in this one. He tells of the suffering of the city’s under-privileged who are the biggest victims of the city authority’s heavy handedness. It was later alleged that he was paid off by the authority when they hired him to perform at a city carnival.

Bana Mutibwa: Walk to Work 

At a Life mu City discussion at the Goethe Zentrum in Kampala moderated by Moses Serubiri, Bana Mutibwa (aka Burney MC) told us that his Walk to Work song was directly inspired by the protests against high prices that followed the 2011 elections. Bana credits Babaluku of the Bavubuka Foundation for his music ideology in Letter to Babaluku. Social consciousness is central to the Lugaflow movement that Babaluku breathed a lot of fresh air into in 2005. Babaluku’s own Tukoye eno Embela is heavily aware of the political power of music.